It's not a perfect world, says Stephen King on Oscars diversity tweet

Last Updated 28 January 2020, 08:55 IST

It is not a "perfect world" as the Academy Awards are still "rigged" in the favour of white folks, says horror master Stephen King in his response to the criticism he faced over his tweet about not considering diversity when nominating films and writers for Oscars.

The bestselling author recently courted controversy over his tweet that, "For me, the diversity issue — as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway — did not come up. That said I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, King, in essence, said that those judging creative excellence should be blind to questions of race, gender or sexual orientation.

"I did not say that was the case today, because nothing could be further from the truth. Nor did I say that films, novels, plays and music focusing on diversity and/or inequality cannot be works of creative genius. They can be, and often are," the 72-year-old writer said.

King, who was called out by many, including Ava DuVernay, for his tweet, praised the filmmaker for her 2019 Netflix miniseries, "When They See Us", about the wrongful convictions of the Central Park Five.

He said there has been "some" progress in the film community from the time when there were only a handful of African American directors in the business.

"... and about the only female director in Hollywood was Ida Lupino, who made hard-edged noir B pictures in the 1950s and later worked in television. Her directing work was never nominated for an Oscar or an Emmy."

King said one needed to look at the demographic makeup of the Academy voters to understand why Greta Gerwig ("Little Women") was not nominated for the best director Oscar.

The writer, reiterating actor Carey Mulligan's comments, said there was no way of checking how many voters actually watch all the eligible films, because viewing is on "the honor system".

"How many of the older, whiter contingent actually saw 'Harriet,' about Harriet Tubman, or 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco'? Just asking the question. If they did see all the films, were they moved by what they saw? Did they feel the catharsis that's the basis of all that artists aspire to? Did they understand?" he asked.

In the age of social media, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was trying to make changes in a "stumbling fashion far too slow", King said.

"In the years before #OscarsSoWhite (2015), the academy added about 115 members per year, arguing that a smaller voting pool kept the professional caliber of the voters high. If that makes you mad, it should.

"In 2019, the academy invited 842 new members, after inviting 928 the year before, which would bring the total to about 9,000. Give them credit for trying to catch up - but not too much credit," he argued.

King said, of the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year, the majority — “The Irishman,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “1917,” “Joker” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — are what his sons called "man-fiction" where there were "fights, guns and many white faces".

Bringing the article back to Twitter storm stirred by his January 14, King said he was white, male, old and rich, adding he didn't come from a family of money and worked as a minimum wage linger.

"It would be absurd to dispute that and equally absurd to apologize for it. The first two traits are genetic, and the last two are the work of Time the Avenger."

Pointing out his works that had contributed to the representation and diversity discourse, King said he was proud to have written about strong female characters facing complex issues, in novels that have often been adapted for movies or television.

"The span runs from 'Carrie,' a novel of female empowerment, more than 40 years ago, to 'Lisey's Story,' now in production as a limited series, about the power of sisterhood, a thing I learned about from my mother and her sisters, plus my wife's mother and hers.

"When people complained on social media a few years ago about Idris Elba being cast as Roland Deschain, the gunslinger at the center of 'The Dark Tower' books, I replied that I didn't care what the character's skin color was, as long as he could draw fast and shoot straight," he said.

King said this response reflected his overall attitude that, as with justice, judgments of creative excellence should be blind.

"But that would be the case in a perfect world, one where the game isn’t rigged in favor of the white folks. Creative excellence comes from every walk, color, creed, gender and sexual orientation, and it's made richer and bolder and more exciting by diversity, but it's defined by being excellent.

"Judging anyone's work by any other standard is insulting and — worse — it undermines those hard-won moments when excellence from a diverse source is rewarded (against, it seems, all the odds) by leaving such recognition vulnerable to being dismissed as politically correct," he said.

(Published 28 January 2020, 08:55 IST)

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